From Displacement to Decent Work: An ILO approach to building resilience

Statement delivered by ILO Deputy Regional Director for Arab States Peter Rademaker at the Brussels VII Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region, on the ILO’s support to vulnerable and displaced people in Syria and neighbouring countries.

Statement | 15 June 2023
Twelve years after the outbreak of the crisis in Syria, many millions of Syrians continue to take refuge in neighbouring countries and beyond. Many millions more inside Syria are displaced. All of these people struggle to carve out a livelihood, with humanitarian assistance increasingly under pressure. They face challenges to access employment, to earn an income from work. There are legal, economic and social barriers to their ability to access work; often there are no jobs and for many the only income they can earn is in the informal economy, where poor working conditions prevail.

The ILO believes that the priority must be to promote decent work and social justice, as essential ingredients in the assistance extended to Syrians and to their host communities. People are resourceful and entrepreneurial, keen and eager to work, to create their own opportunities. Young people especially, when equipped with the right skills and support, have shown an ability to create their own jobs.

Through work, people can gain confidence and resilience. The ILO works with other UN (United Nations) agencies and with many partners both in and around Syria to implement an employment-driven response, informed by a conflict-sensitive approach. The ILO added-value lies in providing concrete decent work opportunities as well as facilitating the transition from humanitarian cash-assistance to more inclusive and (shock) responsive national social protection systems.

The ILO’s work is grounded in its normative mandate, notably the Guiding Principles on the Access of Refugees and other Forcibly Displaced Persons to the Labour Market, as well as on ILO Recommendation No. 205 on Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience.

While in several countries around Syria access to labour markets for refugees is coming under increased strain, the ILO believes it is important to acknowledge the contribution that working refugees can make to local economies. Employment-intensive investment programmes provide income to vulnerable groups while creating or rehabilitating durable assets that benefit host communities in the long-run. Income from work is largely spent in local economies. The assistance programmes tend to benefit both refugees and host communities.

The ILO also believes it is important to explore avenues that can support the eventual safe and voluntary return of refugees. This could involve equipping people with the certified skills that will be in demand in the future inside Syria. It also requires a good understanding of the Syrian labour market and of private sector employment perspectives. Early- recovery interventions, especially at the local level, should focus on evidence-based and job-rich interventions, moving people from assistance to income whenever possible.

It is based on these principles that the ILO implements its Decent Work programmes in the countries neighbouring Syria. But we’re also stepping up our activities in Syria, working closely with the UN family and the ILO-affiliated employers’ and workers’ organizations. Our work in Syria focuses on adding decent work and employment expertise to ongoing humanitarian and early-recovery interventions by UN Partners. We also engage in issues such as child labour prevention and occupational safety and health.

Since February, the ILO has also contributed to the earthquake response in Türkiye and Syria, with our efforts focused on restoring the livelihoods and jobs of affected people.

In closing, the ILO re-affirms its strong support to all its Member States on the theme of this Brussels Conference, Supporting the future of Syria and the region.